What is leaky gut? This is a question I often get asked as this condition is something that more people want to learn about. Leaky gut syndrome has developed into a widespread condition that affects many people today. More and more people are developing gut permeability due to diet, stress, medications, infections, and even bacterial imbalances.
In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about leaky gut so that you can take your health into your own hands if you suspect that this is something impacting your health today.
So, let’s get started and talk about what leaky gut syndrome is and the initial fast facts you will want to know.
Leaky Gut Syndrome occurs when large particles of food or bacteria leak into the bloodstream through cell membranes that have become permeable over time due to stress, dietary or hormonal imbalance, medicinal side effects, or exposure to infection.
Many patients experience a near-allergic response to these irritants, resulting in gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, food sensitivity, gas, abnormal bowel movements and systemic inflammation. However, eczema, muscle aches, joint pain, depression, brain fog and fatigue can also be symptomatic of a Leaky Gut when gastrointestinal symptoms are not present.
If left unmanaged, a Leaky Gut can lead to autoimmune diseases like Type 1 Diabetes* and Hashimoto’s Disease.
How Does Leaky Gut Progress?
Leaky gut is a condition that progresses in stages. Leaky gut generally starts out with some type of gastrointestinal inflammation followed by a food intolerance, which can trigger an immune system reaction and then eventually autoimmunity.
Leaky Gut Symptoms
Many people may associate leaky gut with just gut related issues. However, various symptoms can pop up as this condition affects the entire body. Here are some of the most common leaky gut symptoms:
- Various food sensitives
- Weight gain
- Skin problems
- Joint pain
- Thyroid issues
- Anxiety & depression
As you can see, leaky gut symptoms are not only isolated to the digestive system. When this condition is present in the body, it has the potential to impact more than one area which is why you may be suffering from so many different symptoms that don’t seem to be related to one another.
Your brain, skin, thyroid, joints, adrenals, sinuses, and colon can all be affected by leaky gut.
One of the main symptoms I see patients with leaky gut suffer from is anxiety or depression. There is a huge link between leaky gut and how it affects the brain as the gut and brain are intricately connected. It’s so important to heal your gut if you suffer from any type of psychological disorder. Removing things like gluten and dairy from the diet have shown to be very successful for those who suffer from conditions such as anxiety and depression and is, of course, a very important step in controlling leaky gut syndrome.
What Causes a Leaky Gut?
If you think you have a Leaky Gut, evaluate your exposure to the following potential culprits:
- Dietary: Alcohol, gluten, sugar, processed food and casein. Lectins in food can be particularly problematic. Lectins are proteins found in some grains, sugar, as well as conventional dairy products. These lectins can damage your gut and lead to leaky gut over time. In nature, they act as a protective barrier for plants, however, in the body, they aren’t so helpful. Lectins can attach to the digestive lining and thus cause significant inflammation. You will want to watch out for foods such as wheat, and soy as they contain large amounts of lectins.
- Infections: Bacterial overgrowth, yeast overgrowth, parasites and H. pylori
- Medications: Antibiotics, antacids, corticosteroids
- Stress: Increased cortisol
- Hormonal: Decreased thyroid hormones and sex hormones such as estrodial, progesterone and testosterone
- Autoimmune disease & Inflammation: Autoimmune disease and intestinal inflammation are also known contributors.
- Bacterial imbalances can also cause leaky gut: Dysbiosis which is an imbalance in gut flora can be a major cause of leaky gut. This is an imbalance between the healthy as well as the pathogenic bacteria in the gut, and it can be caused by antibiotics or a poor diet that lacks probiotic rich foods.
Diagnosis can be difficult and must include testing from an experienced functional medicine practitioner. A functional medicine practitioner has the ability to offer specific leaky gut testing that modern day medical physicians may not offer.
Some of the testing options for leaky gut include:
Zonulin or Lactulose Tests
The zonulin test is very useful because zonulin is what controls how large the openings between your gut lining as well as your bloodstream are. It’s normal to have some small openings as this helps to transport the nutrients that your body needs. However, if the openings are too large, it opens the opportunity for harmful toxins to get into the bloodstream. Zonulin levels often rise due to things like gluten, candida, or other GI infections. This particular leaky gut test will be able to tell us what your specific zonulin levels are which is a very useful tool in determining if leaky gut is something affecting you.
Food Intolerance Test
Another common test I use when testing for leaky gut is a food intolerance test. If leaky gut is suspected, it is very important to determine what food sensitivities may be present as well. This is because most people who suffer from leaky gut will wind up with food sensitivities as the result of this condition, and not addressing these at their source will make recovering from leaky gut very difficult, and it can even make the condition worse. One of the reasons why most people with leaky gut develop food sensitivities is because when toxins sneak into the bloodstream through those permeable junctions, the immune system responds to this foreign invader. Your body will then produce a large amount of antibodies as a way to try to defend the body from the particles that should not have been able to seep into the bloodstream. The immune system will then react each time you consume this food. Some of the most common immune triggers include gluten as well as dairy when dealing with leaky gut. This is true even if your body use to be able to tolerate these foods. Once leaky gut it present, there is a good chance that your body will react to these inflammatory foods.
Sool tests are another important piece to the puzzle. Stool testing can uncover many different things that standard blood tests may not be able to uncover. They are very telling when it comes to the health of your digestive system. A stool test can take a look at bacterial levels as well as other markers such as the overall health of your intestines and any inflammation that may be present. These tests are also very helpful in uncovering potential infections of the gut such as parasites, yeast, and other bacterial infections that can all cause leaky gut or make the condition worse.
Vitamin & Mineral Deficiency Testing
These tests are very useful when uncovering leaky gut as having a vitamin or mineral deficiency is a tell-tale sign that your body is not absorbing what it should be. This can point to leaky gut. A deficiency can occur if there is damage to the gut microvilli in the case of leaky gut. I like to test for these deficiencies as another way to help diagnose this condition.
Due to the variety of symptoms that result from lifestyle and physiological factors, this condition, its severity, and course of treatment vary from individual to individual. A skilled clinician can evaluate and identify what is going on in your gut and put you on a specific protocol to heal your body.
Regiments may include removing grains, sugar, GMO’s, non grass-fed meat and dairy from your diet. Replace them with foods with healing properties such as bone broths, fermented vegetables, and coconut products. Supplements like glutamine, digestive enzymes and probiotics can also aid in the repair of this condition.
For best results, it is important to try to identify all possible irritants for your Leaky Gut individually. Once a course of treatment is in place, many patients see improvement in four to six months. For those with Leaky Gut caused by autoimmune deficiencies, long-term lifestyle changes may be in order.
Steps you can Take Today
If you believe that you may be suffering from leaky gut, there are some steps that you can take today to start your road to recovery.
Get the Proper Testing
Getting the proper testing such as a zonulin, food sensitivity, stool, or vitamin and mineral deficiency test would be one of the first steps in taking control of your health. The sooner these tests are done, the better the outcome will be. If you are interested in setting up an appointment to start your healing journey, click here.
Make Dietary Changes
Start by removing gluten, dairy, and sugar from your diet and see how you feel. If you suspect that there are other foods that your body is reacting to, try removing those foods too and see how your body responds. Keep in mind that it may take a little while to feel better after removing a reactive food so give it a couple of weeks.
Enjoy Gut Healing Foods
While there are some foods that you will need to remove from your diet, there are also some foods that you may want to consider adding into your diet. Things like bone broth, fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, and kimchi, and coconut oil are excellent for anyone suffering from leaky gut. Try adding some of these foods into your diet and removing processed and artificial foods.
A diet that lacks healthy probiotic rich foods can cause digestive health issues. Probiotics work to help support the healthy bacteria in the gut while keeping the pathogenic bacteria at bay. You can boost the probiotic rich foods in your diet by enjoying things like sauerkraut, and kimchi, but you can also try adding a probiotic supplement to your routine. Just be sure that you are getting a high-quality probiotic. I recommend Mega SporeBiotics and Prescript-Assist.
Since stress can trigger leaky gut, try your best to limit the amount of stress in your life. While certain amounts of stress are inevitable it’s important to practice some form of stress reduction daily such as yoga, exercise, or meditation.
Work with a Functional Medicine Practitioner
Working with a functional medicine practitioner will allow you to work together to get to the bottom of what is going on. Together, you can explore if an infection is present, what food sensitivities are present, and any other trigger for leaky gut. If you do have leaky gut, an individualized healing plan can be put into place that will work best for you and your body.
Leaky gut can cause debilitating symptoms and not dealing with this condition at its source can make things worse over time. The great news is that there are healing protocols that can be taken to heal the gut so that you can recover and start to feel better as soon as possible.
If you are dealing with chronic fatigue, digestive health issues, anxiety, depression, thyroid issues, skin problem, or joint pain, there is a good chance leaky gut could be causing a number of these symptoms. If you are interested in getting the proper testing and starting your healing journey today, consider booking your individualized consultation.
If you are suffering from any health related issues, I am currently accepting new patients. To start the testing process and discover what is driving your health issues and to get on the road to recovery call our office at +1 (866) 498-1958 to schedule your initial consultation. If it is after our normal hours of operation you can click here to leave us a message. Please only leave a message if you would like a call back to schedule a consultation.
*Vaarala O, Atkinson MA, Neu J (2008) ‘The “Perfect Storm” for Type 1 Diabetes The Complex Interplay Between Intestinal Microbiota, Gut Permeability, and Mucosal Immunity’, Diabetes Journal, (57)10(2555-2562).
Dr. Axe. What Kind of Leaky Gut Test Should you Take?
Dr. Axe. 4 Steps to Heal a Leaky Gut and Autoimmune Disease